Stand firm (2 Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17; Luke 20: 27-38)
Do you ever think about this church in 20 years’ time? or even 10 years’ time & wonder ‘What will it be like?’. I hope it won’t come as shocking news to anyone here that the church as we know it is changing. We know that numbers here on a Sunday are not what they were, let’s say 20 years ago. I can tell you that increasingly when I talk to couples getting married, about what hymns they would like in the service they don’t just say ‘I’ll ask my mum’ they say ‘I’ll ask my gran’. We are all getting older, of course – but research tells us that the average age of our congregations is rising. The church is changing. The church as we know it is dying.
But the church of Jesus Christ is nearly 2000 years old: and in those 2 millennia it has changed time and time again – new movements have been born, and died, but the Church is (as a friend of mine put it
recently) ‘theologically indestructible’. She meant that although the form of the Church will change, as it always has, the message of the gospel, the desire of God to reach out to humanity with the Good News of love and welcome and eternal life – that message is eternal. But, yes, this form of the church is dying. So what will it be like?
We might think the conversation between Jesus and the Sadducees is all a bit pointless and irrelevant to us. The Sadducees are trying to trap Jesus with the ridiculous case of the woman widowed 7 times. They do not believe in life after death and they are presenting a case which is almost a riddle to try to illustrate their belief that there is no heaven and no afterlife. Because they cannot imagine the afterlife, they believe it does not exist. I have some sympathy with them.
Often when I meet people to talk about a funeral service the question ‘what is heaven like?’ comes up. The best I can manage is ‘I don’t know – but Jesus promises there is one’. There’s that question again ‘what will it be like?’.
But Jesus answers the Sadducees with the argument that there is eternal life – just not as they are imagining, a life that is merely a continuation of this one. What will it be like? Different, says Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t really answer the riddle of what it will be like. Instead Jesus paints of a picture of the God is who is out of time and eternal – the God of the living – in whose sight all are alive.
Whatever the church of the future is meant to be, we are meant to be the Church of God, the followers of Jesus Christ, the ones who seek the guidance of the Spirit.
Paul exhorts the church at Thessalonica, too, to ‘Stand fast.. and hold firm’.
It seems there are worries in that church about the return of Jesus at the end of time – and questions about why it hasn’t happened yet. But Paul wants them to remain calmly confident that the God who has cared about them since the beginning of time will never abandon them.
The God who has cared about us since the beginning of time will never abandon us. The God who has cared about you since the beginning of time will never abandon you.
So as we cope with the march of time, both these readings can give us hope because they remind us that although we experience time as a linear journey through the year and into the next– God has a different perspective.
Sometimes all we can do is hold on & wait for it all to make sense: then we can trust in the God who is with us, to stick by us.
The God who lives yesterday, today and forever will hold us safely through the journey of what we know as time: and in this lies our hope.
At the heart of the life of the church is a relationship between people and God, through Jesus Christ. That relationship is unbreakable, unbeatable. There will always be a church – the fellowship of those live as people who know God’s love. While God still loves the world there will still be a church. What will it look like? I have no idea. But if we are faithful followers of Jesus we will see God’s will done – and it is not God’s will that the Church should cease to preach the Good news, even if the shape and form of the church changes utterly.
I’m going to give the last word to The Revd Reg Dean who celebrated his 108th birthday this week on the 4th of November – he is believed to be Britain’s oldest man. Reg was ordained as an Anglican and served as a chaplain in India and Burma in World War 2. Following his divorce in the 50s he became a Congregational & then a URC minister.
Asked about the recipe for long and happy life, Reg said: “A faith I can trust; looking for the best in people rather than the worst; the love of friends; and doing things for the joy of it rather than rewards.”.
Of such is the kingdom of heaven – standing firm, trusting God, knowing and preaching love.
Thanks be to God.